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Pine Creek K-9 Search Unit to the Rescue
(PHOTO: left to right: K-9 Shadow and Handler Makynsey Kepner; K-9 Marshall and Handler Lyndsey Kepner; K-9 Patsy and Handler Barry Dimmick; K-9 Karma and Handler Heather Dimmick; K-9 Benji and Handler AJ Moore; K-9 Moses and Handler Carlee Hidinger; K-9 Nellie and Handler Tracy Hidinger; and Tyler Attinger. Photos courtesy Pine Creek K-9 Search Unit)
Officially established in 2016, Pine Creek K-9 Search Unit was founded after a previous search and rescue group, Track and Trail, was disbanded.
“There were seven members that decided we wanted to keep doing our part for community,” Pine Creek K-9 Search Unit Chief AJ Moore told exploreClarion.com.
According to Moore, those members reached out to Pine Creek Volunteer Fire Department – who were more than willing to help.
“We are technically a division of the Pine Creek Volunteer Fire Department. They have the fire and rescue, and we have our search and rescue. And, we do our own fundraising and have our own officers, but if we get a call, they respond with us to help out.”
While the unit is stationed out of the Brookville area, their coverage area spans Jefferson, Clarion, Forest, Elk, McKean, Clearfield, and Cameron Counties, and they often range outside that coverage area for calls, as well. They’ve been called west as far as Clintonville, south to the Maryland border, and east as far as the State College area.
“We’re on the list of resources for the state, so we can be called anywhere in the state,” Moore noted.
Over the last three years they’ve handled over 30 calls, with the most recent call on Sunday, December 1, when they located a missing hunter in the Millmont, Pa. area.
Multiple members of the team traveled two and a half hours, through an ice storm, to reach the search area. Luckily, the search was both short and successful, and the missing hunter was safely located after just a half hour of search effort by the Pine Creek team.
“His issue was a medical condition. He wasn’t physically able to leave the woods himself,” Moore said.
The missing hunter was then loaded into a quick cot and carried a substantial distance to where medical personnel were waiting.
“There are all kinds of good outcomes like that. We don’t like to leave the scene until we find the person alive and well, or at least find a body. We want to end the search without leaving an unsolved case.”
Moore noted they’ve had many positive outcomes, from finding a little girl in the Brookville area who was lost in a storm to finding a missing hunter in the Tionesta area just last year.
“I remember once where we found an elderly lady who had dementia. We found her alive and well not far from her house. I will always remember her saying she thought she was in her own bed sleeping,” Moore said.
While not every search can have a positive outcome, Moore said they focus on providing whatever closure they can.
“Sometimes it’s inevitable. In some cases, the person has already passed before we get there, and in that case, we’re there to help the family, to find the body so they have that comfort. No one wants to lose someone and not even have their body to bury.”
He stressed that while there will always be a few of those cases, their best chance of finding someone safe is when they’re called in quickly.
“The sooner you can call us in, the better our success rate will be. We can always turn around if you don’t end up needing us, but we’d rather you call us and don’t end up needing us than be four hours behind the person that may still be walking around in the woods needing medical attention.”
Moore has been with the team since the beginning and was previously with Track and Trail. He has a long history of volunteer work, having been a fire department volunteer since the age of 14. He noted it was seeing Track and Trail at flea markets in the area that first got him interested, but acquiring a high-energy dog was what sealed the deal.
“My girlfriend at the time bought a puppy, an Australian shepherd, and he had lots of energy, so someone suggested doing something with him. So, I talked to Track and Trail and started training him. He’ll be five this year, and we’ve been doing this since he was eight weeks old.”
Moore explained that the training isn’t for everyone, or for every dog, and it’s something he recommends checking out before diving into head first.
“Come and see what it is like first. Don’t go out and buy a dog right away because it might not be for you. It takes a lot of time and effort, and time away from your family,” he noted.
Moore said they are always open to adding more members to their team, and dog handlers aren’t the only members they need.
“We also have active members who assist on searches and do fundraising; nonactive members who help with fundraisers and can come to calls but aren’t required to; and hiders who just hide and help with practice for the dogs. There’s a job for everyone. If you can use a pen or pencil, we can use you.”
For those who are interested in becoming a K-9 handler, the dog going into training should be less than two years old, Moore said.
“They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and it’s essentially true. It’s difficult to get them out of the ways their used to.”
The initial training takes about a year and a half and requires working with the team at least once a week and working with the dog at home daily.
“The more you put in, the better your dog is going to be.”
Puppies can begin training as soon as they are weaned, around the age of eight weeks.
There are two primary types of training and scenting:
– Trail dogs start from a specific point and follow a scent trail while leashed; and
– Air scent dogs are taken to an area off-leash and will seek out any human scent in the area, then will return to their handler and alert them when they’ve found someone.
Moore noted there are also cadaver dogs, who are trained to seek the scent of human remains. Though Pine Creek K-9 Search Unit does not currently have any trained cadaver dogs, they would be willing to assist in training to bring one onto their team.
For those who are interested in joining the Pine Creek K-9 Search Unit team, more information on positions and how to join is available on their Facebook page.
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